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Defamation (Libel / Slander)

Defamation, Libel and Slander are all interrelated concepts involving personal injury to one's reputation. Libel and slander are both forms of the larger concept of defamation. Although the elements of both forms of defamation are almost identical to one and other, the key difference with the two is the fact that libel refers to defamation that can be seen whereas slander consists of oral defamatory communications.

Special rules are accorded to defamation involving public officials or public figures, where the communication is about a matter of public concern.


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Frequently, when individuals ask what their injury cases are worth, they are surprised to learn that there is no way for an attorney to answer that question without having access to accurate fortune tellers. Since fortune telling is all a hoax (if it weren't, there'd be a lot more lottery winners), this means that really knowing what a case is worth is impossible until it's over.

Simply put, there are too many variables that go into a case's value. However, one rule of thumb that seems to hold true is that the larger the injury, the larger the award. In the context of defamation, this means that to get a big verdict, the victim must have suffered a major reputational harm, or lost significant income or revenues, as a result of the defamatory statement.

Top 5 Defamation FAQ

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's not just good social advice from mom; it can also be good legal advice from an attorney.

While the First Amendment protects free speech, it doesn't protect all speech. And certain negative speech can get you sued. Here are some of the biggest questions regarding defamation law, and where you can turn for answers.

Dr. David Dao was one of four passengers on a United Airlines flight that was recently forced to give up his seat for UA employees. The airline claims that the flight was overbooked and it needed four passengers to give up seats for employees that needed to be at the plane's destination for work.

After Dr. Dao boarded, while in his seat, he was asked to exit the plane. When he refused, stating that he had patients to see the next day, police were called, and he was forcibly removed from his seat, and literally dragged down the plane's aisle and off the plane. The incident was captured by cell phone video by a few passengers, who posted the videos to social media.

Before he was President Donald Trump, he was host of the reality TV series "The Apprentice" Donald Trump. But his actions then may come back to legally haunt him now.

Summer Zervos, a former "Apprentice" contestant, is suing the president, claiming his denials of her sexual harassment claims amounted to defamation. But Trump's attorneys are planning to argue that the president is immune from this and other civil lawsuits while he remains in office. Is that argument going to work?

Whether you call it fake news or conspiracy theory, allegations of imagined crimes can have very real consequences. Take the case of Edgar Welch, a father of two who drove six hours from his home in North Carolina to a Washington, D.C.-area pizza restaurant to investigate unfounded claims that it was involved in a child sex-slave ring led by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Welch's investigation involved walking into the popular pizzeria with a loaded AR-15 assault rifle and firing it inside the restaurant. Fortunately, he was arrested before anyone was injured, but his actions, and those of others who bought into the "Pizzagate" myth, have many wondering about the legal liability for publishers of fake news.

Ms. Yee Xiong, the University of California, Davis student who woke up in 2014 the morning after a party to find a former friend on top of her, raping her, was sued by her assailant for defamation this year. The assailant, who pleaded no contest to felony assault a few months ago, served Ms. Xiong with a defamation lawsuit on the same day he was sentenced. The action sought $4 million in damages.

The lawsuit, which was quickly dismissed by a Yuba County judge, alleged that the assailant's reputation was damaged by Ms. Xiong and her sisters as a result of Facebook posts that they made and/or shared that called him a rapist. The assailant, despite pleading no contest to a non-sex related crime, is still required to register as a sex offender. The underlying rape case was tried twice, and was set to be tried a third time, as the first two trials resulted in hung juries, when the assailant accepted a plea bargain.

Can I Sue a Website for Libel?

It’s great to be able to communicate with so many people all over the world using the Internet. But it also means that there are more opportunities for defamation, or people publishing false and injurious comments that result in damages after lawsuits.

You can sue a website for the defamatory statements it posts to a limited extent. But Facebook can’t be blamed for the inane things people say on it all the time. If someone uses the social media platform, or any other, to defame you, you can use that as evidence for your defamation suit against the insulting writer. And if, say, you are defamed on a personal or business website, then you can target the site in your suit.

Remember that viral news story about a Russian fisherman attacked by a bear but saved by a Justin Bieber ringtone? Or the college student who set his school on fire with a fireworks marriage proposal? Or how about the lonely Chinese teenagers taking cabbages for walks? Well, BuzzFeed had to get those stories from somewhere.

Those three and more came from Central European News (CEN), an agency that BuzzFeed also called “The King of Bullsh*t News.” Well it turns out CEN didn’t take kindly to that description, and is now suing BuzzFeed for $11 million, claiming the story was defamatory.

Rape allegations are serious matters for both the accused and the accuser. Even if they are disproven, the reputations of both parties remain at stake, which is why rape accusations and defamation claims seem to go hand in hand.

As evidenced by the recent Rolling Stone/University of Virginia case, these defamation lawsuits can be wide-ranging and involve parties that were neither the accused nor the accuser. And even though she's not party to the University's lawsuit, the accuser may now have to turn over documents in the case.

Can I Sue for Libel in Small Claims Court?

Theoretically, you can sue for libel in small claims court in most states. But there are monetary limits on small claims that would make this an unusual choice.

Small claims courts, as the name implies, generally handle small disputes with limited monetary damages. Some states do not allow lawyers to appear in small claims court but libel cases are difficult to prove and probably will require an expert. So for this and other reasons small claims court is usually unsuitable for a libel claim.